Between lake and hill

Charming Naini Tal. We stopped to watch a game of cricket in progress in the large maidan on the west end of the lake. Was there a Manish Pandey developing in front of our eyes? That young man might have played on this field as a child. Kumaon has produced its share of cricketers recently; Ekta Bisht is probably the highest achiever among them. Some good playing but no pyrotechnics today on field. We moved away.

A touristy shop nearby was full of fancy candles, interesting fridge magnets, and herbal oils. The Family looked at the young girls managing the store and said “They should be studying.” At the check out counter she took a survey. Most of them were in college, working at this shop part time. The youngest had a hangdog look. “I’ve just finished class 12. I don’t want to go to college.”

Right in the middle of Mall Road was a large hotel in a meld of Kumaoni craftsmanship and colonial architecture, now completely empty. We scoped it out for a future visit. The manager was happy to show us several rooms. We loved the old-fashioned suites. It is old, and one can probably find more comfortable rooms elsewhere in town, but nothing half as charming. It even had parking. Perhaps an interesting place for a couple of nights in the autumn.

We walked along the narrow path between Mall Road and the Naini lake. Out of curiosity I checked Google ngrams, and found a surprising fact. The word “mall” was most popular in the mid-18th century, when it was used in the sense that the Mall Roads in colonial towns still evoke. The late-20th century revival of this word with its modern changed meaning is a lesser blip. We came to this interesting gate. What large eyes you have, Grandma! Naini Tal is idiosyncratic, and when the tourists are thin on the ground you can still enjoy the place.

South Mumbai on Sunday

We took a little walk through the empty streets near the stock exchange late on Sunday afternoon. The roads were far from busy, and it was easy to take photos. I haven’t done street photos for almost year now, and it felt good to be out with my camera.

There was construction going on in this lot for a while before the lockdown due to COVID-19. Now work has stopped completely. I wonder whether it will resume at all. If the building industry crashes one can imagine that a lot of savings will be totally wiped out.

A street barber can always find work. The featured photo is a close up of this same barber at work. No masks! That seemed to be common on Sunday. This is not a political statement that the media is geared to recognizing. But it certainly is a response to the way the poor have suffered through the pandemic.

A raddiwala sleeps outside his shop. Sunday afternoon is a good time to sleep. Why is he sleeping there, I wondered. What’s his story? He is likely to be an employee. If he is still here at a time when this business is doing so badly, he must be quite desperate for work.

Above the raddiwala’s shop were lots of small apartments. The pink casement caught my eye. Every building looks battered after the monsoon. Some of them will get a coat or two of paint soon. Other buildings were not being maintained because the owner was planning to make money by selling the lot to a builder when the tenants moved out. These calculations will have to be redone.

There were games of cricket on every street. Sometimes even two to a street. This happens every Sunday, but it seemed to me that there were more people on the road now. Lockdown fatigue?

Younger children were going into a park to play. Different age group and different economic class. That’s why the toy vendor is standing at the entrance. The flood light is from a film shoot which had just finished. So they are shooting films again. Lack of consumers is not the problem with that industry.

This old man also seemed to be a raddiwala. Why was that little diya burning inside his kiosk. Evening puja? I feel sorry for people in this business. The margins are low, and at this time I’m sure he’s barely making money.

Near the stock exchange is this imposing neo-classical building which holds a bank. It’s almost a hundred years old now, and is in slightly better repair than many others around. It was perhaps the last of the neo-classical buildings here. Just about the time that it was finished, Art Deco became all the rage.

Time to get a taxi. This lemonade stand does business near the parked taxis. Clever guy. But someone should teach him the right way to wear that mask.

At the end of the walk I was very happy that I had a good mask and a face shield. I’d passed too many people who were not wearing masks. Outdoors the risks are lower than they would be otherwise. Still it is not the most comfortable situation to be in. I usually see a larger fraction of people with masks. Perhaps the people I saw today are always without masks, and only the middle class office workers, bankers, and businessmen wear masks. I’ll have to watch carefully the next time I come around here.

Empty city

Fishing boats are docked for monsoon

The Family had to make a quick trip to work to pick up something that was only preserved on paper. On the way she took the photos of Mumbai slowly getting back to work which you see in the slideshow here. The reported number of deaths in the city due to COVID-19 has held steady at between 50 and 70 a day for the last six weeks. So people are reluctant to move out of home. The roads are as empty as movies of the 1960s used to show. The main visible difference between then and now is that almost every person on the road is masked.

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I have a fantasy vision of the world in 2120. The world’s population will have begun to fall. Even so, there will be more people than today. Drinkable water and tillable land will be harder to find than now. The coastal cities of the world will have drowned, and there will have been unstoppable mass migrations northwards. Most of humanity will have memories of war and loss in their lifetime. But a little before that would Mumbai look like this?

Sculpted mountainsides

People have lived on the Garhwal Himalayas for a long time. The mountainsides are terraced into fields up to a height of nearly three kilometers above sea level; perhaps even higher, although we did not travel so far. There are big farmhouses dotted about the hills. Villages are scattered collections of households. Perhaps the ease of being close to one’s fields overcomes the natural tendency to cluster into groups larger than families.

We stopped at various points along the road from Mussoorie (2 kilometers above sea level) to Kanatal (2.6 kilometers above sea level) to look out at the lower Himalayas, some slopes forested, others sculpted into agricultural land. The population density in this part of the country is similar to that in Sikkim. However, driving along roads in Sikkim gives you the feeling of being in forests, whereas Garhwal has the feel of a farming countryside.

Later, as we took a long afternoon walk through villages we saw an unexpected use of the terraces. A small game of cricket was in progress. The batsman did not have to pull back his shots. I managed to photograph a lusty shot, which would have carried the ball to a boundary even in an ordinary playing field. Here a fielder on a lower terrace gave chase. This region has a shortage of water. I wonder how hard farming must be at this height.

Love in Tokyo

We ordered sushi for dinner. Half the people in the restaurant were too young to remember the kitschy song Sayonara Sayonara from the sound track of our childhood, which was our first tenuous link to Japan. While we polished off the last bits of ginger, The Family asked “Shall we go to Japan on our anniversary?” I swirled a slice of ginger through the soya sauce. Did I really hear that right? I looked up. “Japan?”, I asked. She nodded. I said “Of course.”

There are many Japans. You could visit for the temples and castles. Or you could want to see the crowds and bustle of the cities. What I like are the obsessions of the Japanese. I can walk around all night, looking for little shops which sell rice crisps (see the featured photo), or the vending machines with hot tea and cold coffee, or pachinko parlours with their zombie clients. I love the fact that I could decide to have a haircut after midnight and find a hairdresser’s open. I have wandered through streets, stopping at shops which sell ink and paper, looking at the calligraphy on display. I would love to go back to Osaka and look for the shop which made a name stamp for me. I have a fond memory of a little bar in a basement in Kyoto which specialized in whiskey and jazz.

What’s the best season? You can take your pick. Perhaps it could be the middle of winter when the streets are thronged by people in masks, and you have to warm your hands around a flask of hot sake. Or perhaps it is spring when it seems that most of Japan is drunk while the sakura is in bloom. I like the hot muggy summer, so like home, when the sound of crickets (photo above) keeps you company through sleepless nights. Autumn is special, when leaves turn colour in the temples of Kyoto or Nara and you are supposed to spend evenings looking at the moon. We’ll spend only a couple of weeks in Japan next year. I wish we could spend a year there.